Chambers to merge |

Chambers to merge

Susan Wood

And then there was one.

The Tahoe Douglas Chamber of Commerce gave near unanimous approval Tuesday for merging with South Lake Tahoe’s chamber.

Thirteen board members, with one abstaining and three absent, agreed the concept in theory was a good idea for the betterment of the South Shore – after a year of consideration and four months of extensive meetings.

Ironically, the Nevada chamber decided to merge on a California property. South Lake’s chamber voted yes in Nevada at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe last week. Tuesday’s vote was at Inn By the Lake

The completion date of the merger is set for April 2007.

Board President Andrew Strain referred to the decision Tuesday as “both significant and meaningful” and the “best way to ensure our success.” The Heavenly Mountain Resort vice president of planning reiterated South Lake Tahoe Chamber board President Mike Bradford’s call for unity in unsettled economic times.

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A few logistical concerns and issues were raised by the Tahoe Douglas Chamber members, a signal that with politics aside – the real work now begins.

The chamber boards will need to come up with a combined name. They’ll also have to blend accounting systems and bank accounts as well as agree on a logo and draft joint by-laws for the proposed 15-member board.

And then there’s the move.

By November the two chambers will move into a to-be-built structure at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade. The facility will also house Douglas County administration and the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

The tourism agency will sell its building on Ski Run Boulevard and use the assessed proceeds of $400,000 to upgrade the visitor center in the South Lake Tahoe Chamber building and start anew at the bottom floor of the Kingsbury Grade main offices that will be named Edgewood Village. The $286,000 annual lease is expected to be finalized in a few weeks.

Adding muscle

Board member Diane Imbach launched Tuesday’s discussion with: “How will this merger benefit the Tahoe Douglas Chamber membership?”

Strain responded, saying the merger is a way to “add muscle to seeking new business.” South Lake reports a membership of 950, while Tahoe Douglas has 600. More than 320 businesses are members of both.

The new joint chamber will conceivably focus on business services, community outreach and government relations, the latter being one of at least five critical positions the chamber will fill under the direction of one executive director. This was a sticking point for board member and former Douglas County Commissioner Don Miner, who believes the position should be filled earlier than three years from now. That’s the concept as planned.

“This is one spot that’s very important to me,” Miner said.

Other issues arose Tuesday. Chamber member and Past President Mike Riley said he advocates the merger but expressed apprehension about the visitor center turned over to the LTVA because of the Tahoe Douglas chamber’s success running it.

“But I know the financing of this deal can’t work without the visitor center going to the LTVA. I still have a hang up. (But) I advocate the merger,” said Riley, who headed up the finances with South Lake board member Molly Blann. Riley is a financial consultant.

The merger involves one executive director to run the operations and five employees in specific roles ranging from membership to program development. Membership dues will be ironed out in the coming months. But the belief is they may be up to 35 percent less and based on the number of services selected. Some believe 35 percent is ambitious.

Loss of jobs

An estimated handful of staffers will lose their jobs, and employee benefit cuts have already begun. Tahoe Douglas Executive Director Kathy Farrell told her board one part-time post has been eliminated and health care benefits will be re-evaluated to place the budget in the black. Meanwhile, the chamber has one fiscal quarter left, and Strain suggested the business organization do what it can to build revenue to “zero out” any deficit before another budget year begins. Visitor center sales and fundraisers were mentioned.